HAMPTON, Va. – A Christian student has filed a lawsuit against a Virginia community college after the school allegedly prevented him from preaching the Gospel on campus.
Christian Parks is a student at Thomas Nelson Community College (TNCC) in Hampton, Virginia. An evangelical Christian, Parks has openly preached the Gospel on several occasions while on the TNCC campus.
According to a lawsuit filed by Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) in the U.S. District Court in Newport News, Parks is passionate about his Christian faith.
“Mr. Parks’ Christian faith governs the way he thinks about marriage, morality, politics, and social issues,” the suit explains, “and it causes him to hold sincerely-held religious beliefs in these areas.”
“Mr. Parks believes it is his duty to inform others, including members of the TNCC community, for their own benefit, that they have sinned and need salvation through Jesus Christ,” the suit continues. “Through personal conversations, the distribution of religious tracts, and open-air preaching, he communicates in a loving way that all people (including himself) are sinners and that salvation and eternal life are available only through Jesus Christ.”
Last fall, Parks publicly preached the Gospel on four different occasions in a courtyard on the TNCC campus. According to the ADF lawsuit, Parks’ preaching was not inflammatory in nature; instead, he simply discussed God’s existence and described Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection.
However, the third time Parks preached the Gospel in the campus courtyard, he was confronted by three uniformed police officers from the TNCC Police Department. The officers ordered Parks to stop preaching. Though Parks thought the officers’ actions were unconstitutional, he complied with their order.
A few days later, Parks began preaching in the same courtyard for the fourth time. Once again, campus police officers silenced him, according to the ADF lawsuit.
Following the second encounter with the campus police, Parks asked TNCC administrators why he was not allowed to preach on the school’s campus. He was told that, in order to do open-air preaching, he would first have to join a registered student organization and then receive permission from TNCC officials four days in advance of any preaching.
If Parks does not comply with these regulations, he could be subject to disciplinary actions, including suspension or dismissal.
The ADF lawsuit condemns TNCC’s strict policies and argues that the school’s silencing of Parks’ preaching is a violation of his First Amendment constitutional rights.
“It is repugnant to Mr. Parks that he, as an individual citizen and student at a public community college, must notify the government in order to speak on campus when he feels convicted by his religious faith to speak and preach on campus,” the suit contends. “Mr. Parks also likes to spread his message about religion in reaction to current events.”
The ACLU of Virginia also criticized the school’s speech-limiting policies, writing in a letter to the Virginia Community College System (VCCS) that the school’s policies deserve “substantial revision.”
“If accurate, the complaint against VCCS describes a clear violation of the constitutionally protected free speech rights of a community college student,” the ACLU letter states.
The ACLU urges the Virginia State Board for Community Colleges to revise their public demonstration policy.
“[W]e urge you to take immediate steps to ensure that a revised demonstration policy that takes into account the free speech rights of students, faculty, staff, and the general public is considered and adopted by the Board without delay,” the letter adds.
David Hacker, Senior Legal Counsel for ADF, says free speech is a vital component of college campuses.
“Free, spontaneous discourse on college campuses is supposed to be a hallmark of higher education rather than the exception to the rule,” Hacker wrote in a statement. “We hope that Virginia Community College System will revise its policy so that students no longer have to jump through unconstitutional hoops to exercise the freedoms that the First Amendment protects.”